Review: Escape from Valo is The High Republic's best middle grade novel yet

Escape from Valo brings back the fan-favorite Jedi Ram Jomaram.

Star Wars: The High Republic Escape From Valo by Daniel Jose Older and Alyssa Wong. Image Credit:
Star Wars: The High Republic Escape From Valo by Daniel Jose Older and Alyssa Wong. Image Credit: /

Star Wars The High Republic: Escape from Valo by Daniel José Older and Alyssa Wong, the first middle-grade novel in Phase III of The High Republic, is a fun, fast-paced, and heartfelt read that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The story follows Ram Jomaram, the fan-favorite and mechanically savvy Jedi Padawan from Phase I of The High Republic, as he and a group of Jedi younglings defend the planet Valo from Nihil occupation.

The story gets off to a thrilling start in the prologue as Ram, acting as a mysterious vigilante known as the Scarlet Skull, sabotages the Nihil's Dark Fair, the Nihil's twisted attempt at commemorating their brutal and devastating attack on Valo's Republic Fair in The Rising Storm and Race to Crashpoint Tower. Escape from Valo starts strong and maintains a fast, engaging momentum that never wavers.

Ram's solo vigilantism quickly grows more complicated as three Jedi younglings, Gavi, Tep Tep, and Kildo, emerge and fight back against the Nihil. Since his introduction, Ram has grown a great deal, not only as a Jedi but in his ability to connect with others and forge lasting bonds. Escape from Valo furthers that growth with Ram unexpectedly becoming a leader and mentor to three Jedi younglings, along with a young pirate named Zyle, who joins their resistance as well.

Out of all of the younglings, Gavi receives the most development with his complex emotional journey, but Tep Tep and Kildo also get plenty of chances to shine. Tep Tep is an animal lover able to bond with any creature, even acklays, the creature that tried to kill Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Geonosian arena in Attack of the Clones. Kildo is a prankster, but his heart is always in the right place. It is fascinating to read about how all of the younglings and Ram connect to and see the Force in ways unique to each of them. Meanwhile, despite not being a Jedi and not having as noble intentions, Zyle fits in well with this group and has their own satisfying arc.

As a story featuring child protagonists, there are inevitably plenty of amusing and chaotic hijinks, but the danger they face always feels real. This danger and the trauma they are burdened with is never sugarcoated, but it is also written in a way that feels accessible to all readers. This is true not only for the Jedi and Zyle but also for Driggit, a former friend of the Jedi on Valo who has joined the Nihil in an attempt to protect herself and the people of Valo as best she can.

While Escape from Valo feels more self-contained than many other High Republic stories, its larger relevance and the overall stakes are raised when Nihil scientist Niv Drendow Abruk comes to Valo. As the protégé of Baron Boolan, the Nihil's Minister of Advancement, Niv Drendow is connected to the Nameless, the terrifying creatures who have killed numerous Jedi. His interest in the Nameless also means that Ram's group isn't the only ones pursuing a Republic cruiser submerged in Lake Lonisa and the valuable contents onboard.

From Niv Drendow's attachment to the Nameless to the Jedi navigating their own attachments, this book is a thoughtful exploration of the importance of healthy attachment. It is a fine line, and one that the prequel-era Jedi completely eschew to their detriment, but these High Republic-era Jedi are able to find a much healthier balance.

Given all these strengths, Escape from Valo proves to be my favorite middle-grade novel so far in The High Republic. The characters, pacing, humor, emotion, and themes fire on all cylinders.

It is good to know that many of these characters will return in the next middle grade novel, Beware the Nameless by Zoraida Córdova, along with Older's ongoing The High Republic Adventures comics, where a certain character already appeared in the latest issue, The High Republic Adventures #3.

Next. What is Star Wars: The High Republic?. What is Star Wars: The High Republic?. dark